NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan lawmakers late Thursday night passed a new draft constitution that would curtail the sweeping powers of Kenya’s imperial-like presidency, enhance individual rights and give more power to local governments.
Much of Kenyan society has been chafing for a new constitution for more than a decade. But many politicians, angry about various clauses in the draft, are threatening to rally their supporters to defeat the new constitution when it goes before voters this year in a referendum.
“The document may not be perfect,” wrote the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading newspaper, on Friday, “but the price of rejecting it could be too terrible to contemplate.”
A new constitution for Kenya was an integral part of a power-sharing deal in 2008 after a disputed election erupted in widespread bloodshed. Many Kenyans blamed the all powerful presidency and long festering governance issues for the violence, which killed more than 1,000 people and seriously dented Kenya’s image as a stable, peaceful country.
Earlier this week, the International Criminal Court gave its prosecutors the green light to investigate politicians who might have instigated and organized the killings. Some of the most powerful ministers in Kenya’s government are widely believed to be among the prime suspects. Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, and prime minister, Raila Odinga, have vowed to cooperate with the court, but impunity has reigned for so long in Kenya that most people here doubt that the culprits will ever see the inside of a jail cell.
The draft constitution, which was written mostly by a committee of constitutional scholars, now moves to Kenya’s attorney general, who was recently prohibited by the American government from visiting the United States because of his inaction on corruption. The attorney general’s office can make minor changes, in line with Kenya’s legal code, before the constitution is put to a referendum, currently scheduled for this summer.
Kenya’s last draft constitution was soundly defeated in 2005, setting up the ethnic-based political alliances that fought one another during the violence in 2008.